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Last Updated:5/3/02
Statement from Amesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Washington Office on Latin America, May 1, 2002
Human Rights Groups Criticize State Department's Certification of Colombia

(Washington DC, May 1, 2002) Human Rights Watch, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and Amnesty International strongly object to the U.S. State Department's decision to certify the Colombian government's compliance with human rights conditions given the Colombian government's failure to take even minimal steps to meet the conditions. By law, the State Department must certify the Colombian government on three human rights conditions before releasing the first tranche of military aid for fiscal year 2002, an estimated $104 million dollars.

The three organizations recognize that U.S. officials have taken the certification process seriously. U.S. officials have met with human rights groups and appear to have pressured the Colombian government for human rights progress over the last three months. However, the Colombian government has not made progress toward meeting the conditions, such as the suspension of high-ranking military officers implicated in serious abuses or the arrest of known human rights violators. In short, the Colombian government has rebuffed benchmarks provided by the U.S. government to demonstrate meaningful human rights progress.

The State Department's decision was made despite abundant evidence demonstrating that little progress has been made in improving Colombia's dire human rights record.

Despite the suspension of some low-ranking officers, the Colombian Armed Forces have refused to act on notorious cases such as that of General Rodrigo Quiñones.

Although it may appear that some progress was made regarding military cooperation with civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities, the information was provided by the office of the Attorney General, which has over the past several months fired human rights prosecutors and put obstacles in the way of investigating high-ranking members of the Armed Forces. The Department of State has also recognized the inadequacies of the Attorney General's office.

Contrary to the Department of State's assertions that effective measures have been taken to break links between the Colombian Armed Forces and illegal paramilitary groups, the certification provides no evidence of arrests or actions against key paramilitary leaders or high-ranking members of the Armed Forces credibly alleged to have collaborated with paramilitary groups.
The human rights situation in Colombia continues to deteriorate, as all illegal armed groups continue to target primarily civilians. In only the first four months of 2002, numerous human rights defenders have been killed. Others who face extreme danger include trade unionists, journalists, community leaders and political candidates.

The groups also note serious setbacks, among them the release late last year of the only top paramilitary leader in custody in Colombia, Víctor Carranza. Dozens of Colombia's special human rights prosecutors have been forced to request special protective measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights or flee Colombia because of threats on their lives.

They were particularly concerned that the case of General Quiñones was cited by the State Department as an example of progress because he was transferred to a post in a foreign embassy. Quiñones has been implicated in the Chengue and El Salado massacres as well as the murder of fifty-seven trade unionists, human rights workers, and community leaders.

Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco points out: "The administration is proposing millions in counter-terrorism aid to Colombia even as the Colombian military refuses to break ties with a designated terrorist group."

WOLA Executive Director Bill Spencer commented, "Many of the human rights cases under discussion have languished without progress for the past few years and some for over a decade. This fact speaks to the lack of progress on all three conditions. The decision to certify Colombia on human rights misrepresents the facts in order to keep the aid spigot open."

Alex Arriaga, Government Relations Director for Amnesty International USA, issued the following statement: "It is inexcusable for the United States to send military aid when the Colombian government has failed to adequately meet the human rights conditions placed upon U.S. aid. In 2001, there was a dramatic increase in political violence and attacks on human rights defenders. Meanwhile, impunity continues to reign for those who violate human rights, whether they are the Colombian military, paramilitary groups, the FARC, or the ELN. Without progress on meeting the benchmarks, U.S. aid will only contribute to more human rights violations and diminish hopes for peace."

As of May 3, 2002, this document was also available online at http://hrw.org/press/2002/05/colombia0501.htm

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